Monday, December 30, 2013

Pattern Darning

Each month I'm presenting a new tutorial on a medieval skill from various types of textile-related crafts. The purpose is two-fold. First, it will allow me to locate, study, and try a variety of new techniques I might otherwise overlook, and second, it's an easy way to get information out there about skills that other people might be looking for or find helpful. This month, I present Pattern Darning.

It's sort of hard for me to believe that I didn't previously know how to do pattern darning, since it's a pretty basic embroidery technique, and the results can sometimes very closely mimic the motifs seen in 14th and 15th century brick stitch embroidery. But, indeed, it was an unknown skill for me. Until now, that is.

While decorative pattern darning is seen much more often in the 18th and 19th centuries, it's actually a very old technique. It's been used at various times by various cultures since the 12th century. This wide usage is a good reason that it was labeled by Mistress Briony as one of her "Top Ten Medieval Embroidery Stitches" on How To History. (Which is a video I do recommend, when you're done here, of course.)

When you do a Google image search for "medieval pattern darning", most of the results will be either Mamluk or Icelandic. A search for "kogin embroidery" will also show you the Japanese form of pattern darning, which was used as early as the late 16th century.

Mamluk examples of pattern darning mostly originate from Egypt from the 12th century into the 16th century. Many of the extant pieces are silk (blue being a very popular color) worked on linen. The patterns are typically worked in bands or borders, and in some examples, several differing bands are appiled together to create a more complex, larger designs. Icelandic pattern darning can be seen within the same period, but more of the extant pieces are dated to the later medieval centuries. For the Icelandic variety of pattern darning, wool thread was preferred on linen.

In my testing out some pattern darning styles, I created the small sampler below. After some trial and error, I discovered that the more even the threads on the field cloth, the easier it is to stitch the pattern (and the better the resulting pattern is). Ultimately I ended up using a piece of 28-count mushroom-colored cotton even weave. Since the field cloth is meant to become a part of the design (adding contrast to the thread) it's important to consider the color of the cloth carefully. In this case, the mushroom color lends itself well to a variety of different colors, each with their own overall effect.

Each of my four patterns uses a different thread type. The pink chevrons (not necessarily a period pattern, but like I said, I was learning) are stitched using regular 6-ply cotton embroidery floss (not divided). The diamond pattern below uses some of Renaissance Dyes crewel wool (in natural white) doubled over. The black kogin zashi pattern was created with 3 strands of DMC linen floss. The grey pattern (another modern design) uses my favorite embroidery thread- Caron Impressions wool/silk blend. The blue fish was worked with Kreinik Serica filament silk. Finally, the gold Mamluk pattern was worked with Trebizond 3-ply filament silk. As you can see, each brings its own unique character to the darning which affects how well the eye renders the pattern. The shiny silk, for example, distracts much more from the full design than the matte black linen.

All pattern darning creations use single lines of embroidery stacked together to form the design. The lines weave in and out of the field cloth, resulting in various lengths of dashes and spaces. Changing the order and length of the dashes and spaces on each consecutive line creates the design. While "pattern darning" suggests that the resulting design is a repeating pattern, the same technique can be used to create stand-alone motifs like the fish above. The important thing is that all the lines run in the same direction and are stitched from one end of the design to the other.

Patterns for pattern darning come in a few varieties, some look like weaving diagrams, but the ones I find easiest to understand are specific to pattern darning, and use lines on a grid. For a great site with tons of Middle Eastern origin patterns, I recommend the Index of Charts for Medieval Middle Eastern Counted-Thread Embroidery compiled by Mathilde Eschenbach. [11/22/15: This link appears to be dead, but here's a link to a Google search that provides many great charts instead.] It's also a fun exercise to find an extant pattern and try to work the design out on your own, just to get a better understanding of how the designs are formed. For this how-to, I decided to use one of Mathilde's pattern diagrams called "flower in diamond".

The design produces a band (which could be worked alone, or nestled between other band designs) with a floral pattern repeated through its length. To read the pattern, each horizontal dashed line represents a line of thread. The lines in this grid represent the open spaces of the field cloth (which is a bit counter-intuitive). The pattern uses dash lengths of 1 to 5 threads, and spaces as small as 1 thread.

To start, we need to chose a combination of field cloth and embroidery thread. I'm going to go with a natural colored, 28-count, linen-style cotton and royal blue pearl cotton (size 5). I should also mention that it's possible to work pattern darning in multiple colors per design (here's an example), but I think there's something wonderfully beautiful about the simplicity of a single-color pattern. You'll also want a fairly blunt needle (small gauge tapestry needles work great). I'm using a hoop, but if you're used to doing counted thread embroidery without a hoop or frame, you can definitely try doing pattern darning without one.

This technique is pretty straight-forward, so there's not much I can show you in terms of a tutorial, but here's a few images of the first few steps in the process.

Bring the thread up from the back. I'm starting at the bottom right of the pattern, working right to left and up the design as I go.

The first dash in the pattern goes over two open grid spaces, so I count two threads horizontally.

Pattern darning is easy to work from the front, so I picked up the first three dashes, counting the threads according to the pattern for spaces (needle passes behind the threads) and dashes (needle passes in front of the threads).

When I get to the end of the line, I move the needle up to the next line to work the pattern back across.

After two lines, I get a better sense of how my thread fills in around the threads of the field cloth.

After several more lines, the pattern is emerging.

The back of the piece shows an exact reverse of the front, in true weaving form.

If you make an error in the pattern (it is counted embroidery, after all, and it can be easy to lose your place), it's extremely easy to rip out the thread back to the point you started. There are no crossed threads in the back or front to get caught up on.

It's important not to pull the thread too tightly. Dashes that go over a single thread can easily be lost if they are too tight, and the threads of the field cloth, particularly on the edges of a design like this with straight bands, can shift and warp the pattern.

It does work up fairly quickly, when you don't have children and work keeping you from it. I have not completed the full pattern yet, but hopefully this little how-to is enough the show you how pattern darning is created. When I've completed the embroidery on this piece, I'll share the result on Facebook, so make sure to like me if you're interested in seeing it!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Some Advice on Teaching in the SCA

While sewing may or may not be my forte (jury's still out on that, I think), what I spend most of my energy at events on is teaching. After the first few awkward sessions of sharing what I knew to a group of strangers, I've loved the process of developing and teaching classes on the variety of topics I find interesting. In fact, teaching  (and the researching process that goes into being able to teach) is what I typically say I "do" in the SCA. My enthusiasm for teaching, and of course my interest in the topics, drive my teacher personality, and I'm happy to report that I've yet to teach a class that was a dud.

Last week a friend wanted to test out a new class she was assembling, and had asked me to give her some advice and pointers. I listened to her class, and took some notes. Reading back through the notes, I realized that several of the things I'd written down were not necessarily specific to her topic, and could really be great advice to anyone thinking about taking the step from student to teacher at events. In fact many of these pieces of advice are things I've learned along the way, both as a teacher of my own classes and a student in others'.

Trust yourself.
You've decided to teach because you're interested in the topic. That interest, by it's very nature, will do you a huge favor- it will help you retain information and understand your topic better. So as you teach your class, trust that you'll remember what's important, and be confident that you'll be able to answer your students' questions. You do not need everything written down. Outlines or index cards can help you keep your place and order, but don't use your class notes handout to teach with. I think that most folks who try to rely on fully-fleshed out notes to teach their classes are worried that the beautifully salient points they want to make, which sound so good in writing, will get lost if they don't read them. And while this can be true (it's happened to me), there are ways to remember these well-worded statements without reading the entire content of your class. Repetition, for one, is an incredibly powerful tool. Repeat what you want to say often enough, and when the time comes, you'll recall it. Not only that, but you'll speak it with inflection and intention.

Handle jargon/foreign words as smoothly as possible.
There may be times when you've got titles, names or jargon specific to your topic that you really are better off reading. As teachers of medieval topics in particular, we're also constantly faced with foreign languages. When we can't get through a topic without these words, and we have a genuine problem committing them to memory, we tend to do one of two things. We either say them very quickly with no regard for exact pronunciation, or we slow way down and speak the words syllable by painful syllable. In either case, we've sidetracked the moment and potentially lost our students.

If the words can be translated without losing meaning (if using the original language isn't important), rely on the translation. If the words are important to share in their original language, state the word as clearly as you can, tell them what language it is, then translate it. Then use the translation from that point forward in the class. If it needs to be stated correctly, but you can't get the pronunciation from the original spelling, write it phonetically for yourself. So "Tres Riches Heuers du Duc de Berry" might be written "Tray Reesh Uer duh Dook deh Barry". Again, repetition of that pronunciation will greatly help. If you're not sure about how to pronounce something, do some research on the language and make a best guess, or ask someone that may know how they would pronounce it.

Provide contexts.
We all like stories. It's part of our human nature to be drawn into them. When your topic is extremely factual information, sometimes creating stories around that can be difficult. Which, of course, means you'll have a harder time keeping your students interested. So instead of just rattling off your information bullet-point style, try forming contexts for the information. This usually involves side research to get more relevant information, such as events, people or similar factors that your listeners can latch onto as "landmarks" as you take them through the data. In some cases, years or maybe culture names can provide all the context they need to place the information for better absorption.

Tell stories with feeling.
When your topic does provide for stories, be sure to tell them! Be personable, add humor if appropriate, and bring your students into the moment. Don't miss the opportunity by sharing the information in a dry manner.

Determine a level of student knowledge for your class.
The specificity of your topic will dictate a certain level. In general, your classes will fall into beginner, intermediate and advanced categories. If we try to teach at all three levels in the hour we've got, we're either not going to get through it, or we're going to find ourselves way off track. We're also creating a situation in which we, as the teacher, may rapidly lose control. I had an experience early on in my teaching "career" of having a well-meaning student sidetrack my class because I'd allowed the class to be pulled into a higher knowledge level than what I personally had at the time. Before I knew it, ten minutes had gone by and my topic had been usurped. If I'd established with myself ahead of time what level of knowledge I was going to teach to, I would not have left that door wide open. After that, I began creating every new class by writing an objective for it. By having a "destination" in mind, I could determine at which knowledge level I was interested in teaching for that class, and I could be better able to maintain control of the class because I knew what I wanted to accomplish by the time I was done. Help your students understand what level to expect with class titles and descriptions that clue them in. If someone with a large amount of knowledge attends your "Beginning Sprang" class, they'll be less likely to take over, since you've made it clear who your intended audience is.

Plan for technical issues.
In most cases, your SCA class won't be taught somewhere with the best audio/visual resources. Even if it does, try not to rely on the available technology to teach, or at the very least, have a backup plan in case the technological assets don't work correctly. I speak from embarrassed experience here.

Embrace the phrase "I don't know".
The best teachers I have had the pleasure to be student to know that "I don't know" isn't a curse of death. In fact, in my own experiences, when I've found myself saying those three words, it gives me a great opportunity to go back and do more research. Also, don't forget that, while you might not know that specific thing, there may be related things you do know. "I'm not sure about X, but I do know Y, so maybe Z is likely, but I'd have to do more research." It doesn't have to be as formulaic as that, but the point is to try not to leave the question completely unanswered.

There are many more things I can share about teaching, but I think these points are the most relevant to share here. Different types of classes (lecture, demonstration, hands-on, etc.) have their own sets of lessons for teachers to learn, as do different topics themselves. I hope, though, that if you're just starting out as a casual SCAdian teacher, you find these tips useful.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Blog Referral

This month, my blog referral is:

Som När Det Begav Sig

The direct English translation of this Swedish blog title is "As In the Days", and it's a wonderful compilation of a great many topics of interest to medieval clothing enthusiasts. It is maintained by Sarah W (who also writes a more general blog, A Most Peculiar Mademoiselle), a wonderfully talented wife and mother who is thankfully willing to share her knowledge with the rest of us!

Topics on Som När Det Begav Sig include medieval sewing techniques, medieval children's clothing, tools and resources, and even a wonderful post devoted to taking great photos of your medieval life that keep the viewer in the moment and entranced by your ability to travel through time. Even when I already know about the particular topic she's discussing, I finish reading the post and feel like she's filled in some of the gaps, or I walk away truly inspired to be more intentional and authentic with my medieval work.

Google's translate option does a pretty fair job with the Swedish, but there are a few words that it can't quite get. I haven't come across any of those yet that I couldn't figure out within the context, though.

So why are you still here? Visit Som När Det Begav Sig!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Project Complete: Blue Wool Fitted Gown

I made a silly mistake. You may have noted on the photos of my in-progress blue wool dress that I had several wrinkles and creases on the pieces from storing it. I decided that I'd just toss it into the hand wash cycle of my dryer sans soap, and then tumble it a bit in the dryer to work the creases out- after it was completely sewn together. It had been machine washed before storing, so this wasn't really off the wall. Unfortunately, my husband (who transferred the load) took me literally when I said "low" heat, instead of just air drying it. And I ended up with a new blue wool fitted dress about 12" too short.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. I was also on-the-verge-of-crying disappointed because I had decided, completely randomly, to hand-sew it. So yes, my friends, my very first completely hand-sewn gown got shrunk in the wash.

Not a total loss, though. The advantage of the specific wool flannel I used is that, though tight, it does actually still fit. So it's mostly just not long enough to be the 1390's fitted gown I was aiming for. So, let's move on to the Project Log to see what I was able to do with it, shall we? 

Though originally intended to have the quality of a hand-me-down, 7-panel surcote altered to be fashionable in the 1390's, the final result is more appropriate as a mid-14th century layering gown. A "Hunting" gown, if you will.

BL Yates Thompson 13, "Taymouth Hours", circa 1320-1350, f. 72.
When paired with my pink wool fitted cotte (now with buttoned forearms!), I get a look that's quite reminiscent of the lady pictured above from the mid-14th century Taymouth Hours. Many of the over-gowns pictured on the lady-hunters in that particular manuscript have a long slit up the sides (this one does too, it's just folded over so the inside is showing, rather than the slit), but there's enough of a similarity without a slit on mine to go with it.

The issue, however, is that I was trying to make a late 1390's gown, like the full-skirted examples spotted in the Grande Chroniques de France. (You can see my first progress post for a look at that.) So I was aiming for a tightly fitted torso, which suits the turn of the century, and is much more modern in overall style than the hunting gowns of the Taymouth Hours. Since fitting of this type- in the sleeves, bust and ribcage- isn't seen among women's gowns until after the 1360's, I'm dating this one to plausibly 1370's.

The real purpose of this gown was to test using a 7-panel construction to achieve a fuller skirt. In my first progress post, I shared what the gown looked like after assembling the 7 panels (without godets) directly from their straight-cut format. The front and back panels were rectangles, and the four gores (side panels) were trapazoids, angled on one long edge, but straight on the other. 

Then, in my second progress post, I showed what simply fitting those pieces on the body was able to accomplish. Introducing curves in every seam except for the center side seams, I (with the help of my mom) was able to get a very shapely fit, with a good amount of support on its own (though it's never intended to be supportive alone- it needs a fitted kirtle underneath.)

While cutting all the pieces down, I decided, very randomly, and very late one evening, to start hand sewing the dress together. I pulled out a spool of navy blue silk thread I didn't really have a use for previously, a long needle, and went to work. I used a tight running stitch, which is surprisingly sufficient, though I may need to reinforce a few spots given its final fit. 

Looking at the photos I had my husband snap when I was patterning the sleeves, I saw that I wasn't getting the correct drape in the skirt. The skirt wasn't as full as I was hoping, but I was getting a fairly good drape. The problem, though, was that I'd started the flare too low, and I wasn't getting the sudden fullness toward to top of the skirt that I wanted.

The front gore, especially, was not draping correctly. Which was a shame, since I'd gotten it perfectly sewn in on the first try. It was also too short. I had somehow managed to shift the side panels up when I reassembled the dress after fitting and it was about 3" from the floor, instead of just a hair above it like it should have been. At this stage of the fitting, I was starting to feel like I'd missed the mark, but it was still turning out okay enough that I just kept moving forward with it. Plus the skirt was fairly twirly, and that's always fun.

The advantage of hand sewing the dress together, though, allowed me to finesse the sleeves enough to get the sleeve seam and the side back seam to perfectly align on each side. Generally speaking, the hand-sewing on this gown ended up being the easiest and most rewarding part of it.

I'd been having an issue, though, with stubborn creases from storage. I tried ironing with no results. I tried a damp cloth between the wool and the iron, and it sort of worked but it was way too time consuming and I would have been at it for several hours. I decided to just finish the gown then wet it without soap in the hand-wash cycle of my machine. The idea was that I would tumble it a little in the dryer afterward then hang it up to dry the rest of the way, and the creases would be gone. My husband had a few wool items that needed the same treatment, so we tossed them all in. When it came time to move everything over to the dryer, I had said "low heat" when I really meant "no heat", and my husband, not really thinking about it, did as I said and the items tumbled around for about 40 minutes on low heat in the dryer.

When I pulled them out, I was surprised that the items were dry, and I noticed immediately that the blue wool had felted somewhat. Eagerly, ignoring the signs, I tossed the dress on, and knew right away that it had been shrunk. I mean, really shrunk. I wanted to cry.

I have to thank my mom. Completely distraught, and feeling that I'd wasted all that time and energy, I did concede, at least, that it still fit (though snug). A few minutes later, mom declared that all was not lost, and she reminded me of the Taymouth Hours. Thinking on it a moment, I decided to go with that idea. A few minutes later, I'd made the mental conversion.

The interesting thing, though, was that despite it being just a hair too small, and much too short for what I wanted, it looked (and made me look) much better.


The shrunken length, with everything pushed about 6 inches higher toward the middle of the dress, did exactly what my fitting didn't. The looseness of the skirt now starts just under the tight rib cage, rather than several inches below it. The skirt isn't as full as it should be to match the Grande Chroniques example, but I did end up with an extremely loose and twirly skirt that loves to dance as I walk.

As we took photos, I told my husband that I felt playful in the gown (and happily started throwing snowballs at him). I also felt well supported, but I was concerned that I would pop a seam. I didn't, even as I crouched down for another handful of snow.

Having been felted, the blue wool is now plush and warm, much like the gold wool of my gold wool gown. I've joked that the gold gown is my garb "sweatshirt", but this one now definitely holds that honor. It's comfortable, and I feel great in it.

The back godet (two half godet, actually) did end up a bit too high visually, with the point now landing well above the small of my back. It is, however, perfectly placed for the better skirt fit. I'm not sure anybody but me will really care to notice that it's just a bit too high.

While I didn't open any seams, there were a few places where the seam was strained more than the running stitch really wanted to handle. A second line of running stitch within the open dashes of the first should do the trick.

The heat from the dryer also did damage small spots on the dress, resulting in areas that look slightly faded in the right light. There are two on the front of the skirt, and at least one more on the side. They are hard to actually register in person, so I'm not really concerned about them.

This project is what Bob Ross would call a "happy accident". By shrinking the whole thing, I ended up with a better fit, a better skirt, and a completely unexpected and extremely fun new item of garb. The seams are perfect, and I'm still patting myself on the back on the craftsmanship I put into the assembly. I'm in love with the way the seams flow into each other and along my height.

And, the cycle through the machines did take out the creases.

More photos over at Flickr or on Facebook!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

In Progress: Blue Wool Fitted Gown, part II

I had to put fitting my new blue wool dress a hold for a few days, since I needed a bit of assistance to get the back fit, and my mom was away visiting family for a few days for Thanksgiving. So today with her back home, I could get back on track to have this dress complete for Christmas Toy Tourney this weekend.

When we last left off with this project, I had the basic shapes of a 7-panel gown sewn together to do an initial try-on. It fit very loosely, but I was able to easily identify where and by how much I needed to tailor the fit.

I started by adjusting the shoulder angle by pulling the seam upward to make the panels straight, then pinned along the angle of my shoulders. Then I chalked lines for the armholes and neck holes. I cut the armholes a bit bigger than intended, but not so large that I'd created an issue. Then I had mom do an initial pinned fitting. There were still several wrinkled areas that we took care of after my daughter snapped this photo:

My son also wanted to take a photo, but I'd already taken the gown off. Which means I finally now have a photo of my linen short cote to show you!

So after basting it, which definitely makes it neater, I had a reasonable fit.

There was still shaping to be done around the bust, and I also made some angle adjusting to make the line of fitted bodice flow properly into the skirt. I did not get any photos of those adjustments, though. Looking at the photo of my back, I can see that I also need to ease the curves in the back side seams to stop the cutting-in effect at my mid-back, and to even them out side-to-side.

Now I'll be marking all the seams and taking the whole thing apart to sew with the seam allowance inside. That will give me the chance to iron the prominent creases from when it was stored, and to be more intentional about sewing the long straight seams on the skirt to prevent the puckering.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

In Progress: Blue Wool Fitted Gown

Last year, I purchased 5 yards of a beautiful blue twill wool with really no idea what to do with it. At various times I thought it would be good for a raglan-sleeved kirtle a la Rogier van der Weyden, or a slightly fitted surcoat with bell sleeves like those seen in the Taymoth Hours. But then I fell head over heels for just about every dress I've come across from the Virgil Master's Grande Chroniques de France.* My gold wool streamer-sleeve gown was the first result of that infatuation. Then I found this beauty:

Grande Chroniques de France, c. 1402
Sleeves aside (I don't need another streamer sleeved gown), I love the fullness of the skirt, and I most definitely love the very French color. Which made me remember the wool I had on hand. My blue is not a French, indigo blue, but rather a brighter cornflower blue, but I'll take it!

I had to do a great deal of color correction on the photo to get it to match reality. It shows up much grayer otherwise (which you can see in the unedited photos that follow).

What I was particularly drawn to on the source gown was the flattering fullness of the skirt. I looked around for some examples of recreated dresses that came close to that fullness, and saw that Cathrin's green dress was pretty close. She used Herjolfsnes no.38 as a base pattern (knowing, as I do, that the Greenland gowns were not tight fitting garments), and assembled the dress using 8 panels. With this construction, the four "extra" seams cause the fullness added in by the gores to be pushed away from the sides, evening out the drape a bit more around the whole body.

For a while I've wanted to try creating a fitted dress by starting with a rectangular-constructed base. Using the "8-panel" idea, with the goal of attempting a fuller skirt, this seamed like a good chance to do so. I didn't take any photos of the layout or initial cutting, but here's the pattern I used to get all my base pieces:

After quickly basting the pieces together, it fit pretty horribly, but since I still had all the fitting to do, I wasn't too concerned.

For the moment I'm opting for a non-seamed front. I was able to accomplish a good fit without one on my blue linen day dress, and I dislike the look of a fixed center front seam. This is a gown, an overdress, so it will not be required to shape and support on its own. Any number of my fitted cottes or kirtles will do that work. For these photos, I'm wearing my linen short cote, but I believe that it had missed a washing since it was much too loose and the non-supportiveness of my sports bra wasn't helping either.

You can see pretty clearly on the side view that I overcompensated the required width on the front panel, so the center side seam is riding further back than it should. The back isn't too narrow, though, so when it's fitted, the front should reduce considerably, and the seam should be properly placed.

The other part of the dress that will change considerably is the rear. Once the back center godet is in place, with its tip high above the largest part of my rump, I should theoretically get a much more flattering waist and bum shape. (How many different words can I use to talk about my butt in one paragraph?)

I'm glad my husband snapped a photo while I was pulling the front a bit. The look of the skirt, in particular, was what I was happy to see, since it shows that there is already the potential for a good draping fullness. I do wonder, however, if I'll end up adding additional side godets to increase it even more.

Finally, the armhole will also greatly change the finished look. Right now, there is far too much material on and around my shoulder, so it's a bit difficult to see now how the bust and upper back will ultimately look. There is also no angle to the shoulder seams themselves, and that will also need to be adjusted.

In order to proceed with this dress, I'll need to make the neckline, shoulder and some armhole adjustments, then I can begin the actual fitting. With a properly fitting supportive cote on underneath, of course.

*Please note: I have been unable to locate the exact source for this and a handful of other illuminations originating from the same manuscript. It is visually identical to most of the miniatures found in BL Royal 20 C VII, but is instead credited to BNF Richelieu Manuscrits Français 73, which does not appear to be online in any fully-intact format. I believe that the pair of manuscripts were completed through the turn of the 15th century, as the BL MS is dated after 1380, and I have been able to locate a date of c. 1402 for the BNF MS.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Tricks for wearing a St. Birgitta's Cap with a too-long strap

Recently the question came up about what to do when your Saint Birgitta's Cap strap (the loop) is too long. In this video, I present two simple solutions that you can use until you decide it's time to shorten the strap permanently.

I personally recommend that you use either or both of these techniques for as long as they work. It's always better to have length, since your hair will grow and change the fit of the cap as it does. You may find, when your hair is longer, if fits correctly again. Laundering will also affect the size. If, however, you're consistently having tension issues regardless of your hair's length, that's an ideal case in which cutting it down is the way to go. Try timing that change so that you're establishing your new strap length when your hair is the longest you're likely to let it get, and make sure that the cap has been thoroughly washed and dried to ensure that it's already as small as it will be.

If you're curious about making your own cap, check out my information, or head on over to for links to many more examples.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Getting Ready for the Winter

It will be several weeks between now and the next event for me, which is typical of this time of year. While I do ardently wish there were more cool weather events, I also enjoy having this time to have no projects with pressing deadlines. The mundane world is momentarily taking most of my attention, so I don't have much to show for myself these past two weeks, but I also don't have much of anything on my plate that's screaming at me to get it done. Here's what's in the works:

I had a random piece of evenweave left over from the Counted Thread Embroidery class I taught at Coronation. Waiting for a file to load, I spotted it on the edge of my desk, and it screamed at me that it needed to be embroidered. Since it's not a big piece, I wanted to do something with a small repeat, and I knew I wanted to do a brick stitch piece that uses black as the base color. After a bit, I settled on this pattern from Taschen. I've only been able to pick it up for a few minutes at a time since starting it last week, so it's a lot slower-going than it probably warrants. I'll be doing the cross hatches in alternating diagonal bands of orange-pink and soft yellow-gold, then I think a khaki tan for the diamonds. It's 5"x4.5", so I'm thinking that it will become the front side of a 2-sided change pouch (with probably just a black wool backside). Maybe I'll try my hand at making some big tassels for the bottom corners.

All the pieces (except for the sleeves) of my orange linen fitted dress are finished and ready for assembly. I started one seam, a middle gore seam, but that's as far as I've gotten on that. I decided to use a heavy-duty thread instead of my matching orange for the sake of stronger seams. I've been having trouble lately with my machine-sewn cotton thread breaking and popping seams, so I didn't want to trust the weaker thread on this project. I like the gray- it's barely noticeable on the outside, and I like the finish it gives to the inside.

Then there's this beast. Which deserves its own post. So let me just say for now that I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

While I'm reasonably sure that I won't have the orange dress done in time for Christmas Toy Tourney on the 7th (though stranger things have happened), I would like to have a new winter gown that day. I'm eyeing the 5 yards of blue twill I've had since spring of last year. Something simple with a full skirt.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

From the "Forgotten" Pile

I've been neglecting my orange linen dress. I had put it aside to get some other things done, and, alas, it had sort of stayed aside.

I really had not gotten that far on it. I had run into an issue with seam allowance (namely that I'd left too much allowance on some areas), and trying to work through that issue, I'd sputtered out on it. I had also started to feel like my pieced-together full lining had been a bad idea. It really just looked terrible.

Since putting it aside, I've been introduced to a few new methods of seam finishing, and since I really didn't have much sewing done on the dress, I figured back-tracking was probably the order of the day. I pulled all the existing stitching, and removed the lining. I kept the heavy linen bodice lining for a future dress, since it's still good. I was going to purchase a new lining material, but my budget just wasn't making that possible, and I really wanted to get the dress completed. So, I decided to proceed without a lining.

Since it had been a considerable enough of an amount of time since I started the dress in the first place, I figured that doing a quick refit wasn't a bad idea. I'm glad I did that, since there were definite modifications that needed to be made. Luckily, I've done enough of these dress fittings to be able to wing the adjustments, and not need the extra set of hands. My husband gave me the final thumbs up on the fit.

But then, as it waited about 3 weeks for me to get back to it, I came across Medieval Market's Cotte Simple Type 3, and began to rethink the needs of my wardrobe. In fact, several hours of perusal of their entire women's clothing line turned out to be a great advantage to inventorying my existing garb and identifying what may still be missing. Ultimately, I decided to convert the orange dress into the same type of dress as their #3 by converting the front to a fixed curved seam, and moving the lacing to the side. In this manner, it can function as a supportive layer under just about anything, and can certainly work on its own if needed during the summer.

You can see here the three lines of fitting on one of the sides- the outermost was the seam as determined by the lining fitting, and the innermost seam is after switching the front to a fixed curved seam.
The alteration in construction required one more refit, and it lost another considerable amount all around. I believe the primary reason for that loss was because I'd introduced a curved into the front seam. In addition, I was very keen on trying to manipulate my bust upward enough to reveal how narrow my ribs are in comparison, without looking too comically top-heavy, and was therefore much more judicious in what I was taking off. I also ended up pulling a significant amount out of the shoulders. All of this working to take the pattern pretty far away from the lining pattern I had so painstakingly fit back in the spring.

After getting all four main panels of the dress sorted out, I decided to move forward with using the Elizabethan seam for the entire dress. After trimming all my seams down to 3/4" seam allowances, I began the hand-sewing phase by finishing the sides and shoulders with double folded hems, securing them down using running stitch with a matching cotton thread. I made sure that I marked on each panel the insertion points for the gores to make sure everything was lining up correctly.

Finished panels, waiting to be joined by the gores.
At this point, I've completed that first stage of finishing on all four panels, and now I'm moving on to the gores. I've accomplished more on this dress in the last 3 days than I had accomplished up to that point. I suppose, sometimes all it takes is rethinking a project in order to get it done!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Blog Referral

This month, my blog referral is:


Cathrin, a "crafty girl living in Sweden", uses her blog to share her sewing, tailoring and crafting projects, which, lucky for us, include a great number of medieval items. She's extremely well-rounded in her skills, switching from sewing to wood-working, to leatherwork. I get the sense reading her blog that the act of making things, whatever method is required, is enjoyable to her, and her results are very inspiring. Her version of the Lengberg bra is a must-see for anyone with more than a D-cup, and all her tutorials are very informative and easy to follow.

She also has a Facebook page that she uses to fill in more details or for sharing smaller, quicker projects, so I highly recommend getting updates from her there as well.

So take a moment (or twelve) to check out Katafalk!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Properly Assessing Your Work

Today, I'd like to talk about something we tend to gloss over as sewists- properly assessing the work we do.

There's a huge difference between the words "critique" and "criticize". When you criticize your work, you're unfairly comparing it to some level of perfection you've assumed you are capable of at that moment. Nobody is perfect, and even those people that seem to have all the right skills to produce amazing garb have areas they wish they could improve upon. Judging yourself against a standard of perfection is begging for hurt feelings (which you can most definitely do to yourself.) Criticizing your work sounds like, "That eyelet is horrible and ugly, and no one with any talent at all would produce an eyelet like that." Now that might sound like an over-exaggerated statement, but for those struggling with craftsmanship, it's probably not that far off base from some of the things we've said to ourselves. For me, a typical criticism is, "You look like an idiot." And that's a mean thing to say to myself.

When we critique our work properly, however, we remove judgement from the equation. Let's say our eyelets don't look that great. Instead of insulting ourselves in our evaluation, a proper critique is to assess what may have gone wrong, and brainstorm what may have worked better. "This eyelet is a bit wonky. I think I pulled the thread tighter on these few stitches than on the others. I should probably pay more attention to my tension as I stitch." The difference is obvious. In our non-emotional, non-self-depreciating, constructive critique, we've not only made ourselves more aware of an issue, we've provided a goal to achieve the next time around.

There is nothing wrong with looking at every item you create and noting the "things you would change". In some cases, doing that can be a huge advantage to the learning process. You're essentially saying, "There's still something for me to learn here," in a polite and goal-oriented manner. No insult, no hurt feelings, no judgement. The trick is to do it without adding comparisons into the mix. When we begin to assess our work according to what others are creating, especially when those others are beyond our skill stage, we start grading our work on the wrong scale.

If you must compare your work, there are two appropriate areas of comparison I can suggest. One is to compare your current work to your past work. It's a satisfying feeling to see your progress, and I believe there's very little that is as encouraging than to see for yourself what you've learned by looking at what you didn't know how to do in the past. The second is to compare your work to the scale of progress that leads to your goal- NOT the goal itself. This is very tricky. You need to determine what progress milestones you want to hit, then you need to be realistic with your expectations. For historical costumers, your goal is probably to be as authentic as possible for your period of choice. Your progress scale, then, is to progressively add more authentic techniques, materials and style choices to your work as you learn how to do them/work with them/understand them. Working toward recreating extant pieces, and breaking that goal into its parts is a great way to accomplish that. Just make sure to give yourself time to learn.

Finally, remember that being technically good at your craft is only part of the equation. Be sure to critique your acquired knowledge as well. If you can do a technique with your eyes closed, make sure to assess why you do that technique, and what bearing it has on your goal. In that way, you allow yourself to not only become a better sewist, but to become an expert sewist in time!

So tell me, what part of properly assessing your work do you struggle with the most?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Plain Weave Inkle Loom Weaving

Each month I'm presenting a new tutorial on a medieval skill from various types of textile-related crafts. The purpose is two-fold. First, it will allow me to locate, study, and try a variety of new techniques I might otherwise overlook, and second, it's an easy way to get information out there about skills that other people might be looking for or find helpful. This month, I present Plain Weave Inkle Loom Weaving.

I'm not entirely sure how the decision to sit down and learn inkle weaving came about. All I do know is that one moment I didn't know what it was, and the next I was stringing a loom. I also know that it was very easy to figure out, and I really like doing it!

Inkle weaving falls into the same category as card or tablet weaving as a narrow or band weaving technique. Unlike card weaving, however, inkle relies on a more basic principle of weaving and does not involve twisting threads along their paths. It produces a much more defined weave.

There are two categories of inkle weaving techniques. "Plain" inkle weaving involves nothing other than a consistent pattern of warp exchanges with the weft passing through on each exchange. "Pick-up" inkle weaving involves one of two variations of warping the loom with specific pattern and ground colors, and manually creating a pattern by "picking up" individual strands independently of the basic weave. I'm still working on understanding pick-up weaving, so in this month's feature, I'm going to focus only on plain weave. Don't let the name fool you, however. Patterns are still possible in plain weave inkle bands- they rely on patterns of color.

Inkle bands consist of any number of warp threads that are either "open" and moveable, or "heddle" and stationary. The threads always alternate between open and heddle across the width of the band. Pushing the open threads above (up) or below (down) the heddle threads in sequence creates the weave of the band. For most plain weave bands, it doesn't matter if the open threads start up or down, since plain weave inkle bands are only able to produce simple, two-phase repeating patterns.

Heddles are required for inkle weaving. Heddles are extra strings or devices that wrap around or capture warp threads. The most common style of heddles for inkle weaving are strings that secure the heddle threads by pulling them to the static heddle peg. It is also possible to use a rigid heddle for inkle weaving, but I've never tried the technique.

The length of your heddle threads is usually dictated by the particular loom you use, so check your loom's specifications. In general, they will be determined by the specific location of your heddle peg. The heddle peg is simply a stationary piece of the loom positioned relatively near the working area. Looms designed for inkle weaving (the "inkle loom", go figure) have a heddle peg, a tension bar of some variety, and several pegs to wrap the warp threads around for your band's length. I'm using my mom's inkle loom, an Ashford loom that's been through the ringer and had an extra piece attached to keep everything lined up. Here's how I set-up heddles on my loom:

Brown heddle string wrapped around both the top and heddle pegs for sizing. After sizing all my heddles, I pull them off the loom and set them aside for warping.
I start by placing a heddle string on the heddle peg. After positioning my warp thread over the top peg, I pull my heddle up and over it.
Then I secure the other loop of the heddle string on the heddle peg, pulling the heddle thread into position.
The next warp thread is "open", so I simply pass that between the top and heddle pegs to my back peg.
Your loom may be arranged differently, but all plain inkle weaves need to have this same type of basic setup.

You'll also need a shuttle- a special stick that holds your weft threads. Belt shuttles are great for inkle weaving. They have a rounded edge for holding the weft thread as well as a tapered edge to "beat" the weft threads down after you pass them through the shed. Unfortunately, I don't have a belt shuttle, but any type of shuttle will work, as long as it's narrow enough the beat the weft into place effectively.

On the technical level, creating a plain weave is a 4-step process. Pass the weft through the shed (the space between the open and heddle threads), exchange the position of the open threads (if they were down, you pull them up), pass the weft through the shed again from the other direction, exchange the open and heddle threads again. Rinse and repeat along your entire length. So, technically speaking, inkle weaving sounds pretty dull.

To create patterns in your weave, which is the really exciting part, you'll need a pattern. There are two basic types of patterns for plain weave inkle weaving. The first puts both the open and heddle threads on a single row, and the second splits them up into two rows.

Both of the patterns above produce the exact same band- a 22-thread band with blue and gray stripes and wider blue edges. In both cases, each column represents one warp thread. Every other thread will pass through a heddle, while the others will remain open. With Style 1, it's up to you to determine if you will start with a heddle or an open thread. Once you pick one, you alternate between the two until you have all 22 threads. In this case, since we're looking at an even number of threads, half of the threads will be heddle. Note that you will end with the other type from the one you started with. Style 2 helps you out a bit more by detailing which warps are open (O) and which are heddle (H), but it's the same pattern. The white spaces are meant to be ignored. It's really a matter of preference which you like, but since patterns are available using both methods, is a good idea to wrap your brain around both. There's a great site, the Inkle Loom Pattern Generator, which allows you to create patterns using Style 1. The popular book The Weaver's Inkle Pattern Directory by Anne Dixon, utilizes Style 2 (calling the rows Heddled and Unheddled).

The thickness of your threads has a great deal to do with the look of your band. Using the 22-thread pattern above with worsted weight wool yarn will produce a much wider band than working the same pattern with crochet cotton. It's also common to group threads together to bulk them up. Warping 4 strands of crochet cotton together and treating them as one warp will produce a thicker band than just using a single strand alone.

To show you how to inkle weave, I've created the pattern below. I'm using a heather teal wool yarn and a white acrylic yarn.

This pattern uses 15 warp threads and will produce a pseudo-checker pattern. Since I'm working with an uneven number of threads, I will end on the same type I started with. I'll have 8 heddle and 7 open so that my band is capped by two heddles (which is my preference- some people prefer it the other way).

To begin the band, I'll need to warp the loom. Since this is just a tutorial, I'm going to use the shortest band size available on the loom. Wrapping the warps around combinations of pegs produces different lengths, and inkle looms have both minimum and maximum possible lengths.

Begin by securing your beginning thread to the starting peg. Some people use masking tape and tape the end to the loom. I just use a slip knot.
Here is one length around the loom. You can see that my tension pad is not up, but my thread is pulled fairly tight.
Depending on the type of thread you use, you may be able to wrap the threads around the starting peg so you can secure the heddle. If not, a piece of tape will work, or you can even work on setting the heddle with only one hand, so you don't have to let go with the other.
Since I decided that my pattern would start with a heddle, I apply that to the thread I just warped.
The pattern calls for the next thread to be white, so after cutting the teal, I knot the white on.
After getting all 15 warp threads in place, I untie the starting thread and tie it to my ending thread.
When it's all warped, it looks pretty sloppy.
So I straighten my heddles and set my tension. Not sloppy now.
There are a couple different methods for starting the weave, but if I can get away with the simplest one, that's what I prefer. After passing the weft (blue cotton) through the shed twice, I pull it tight and knot it. This helps to also give me a better idea of the width.
The starting position of my open thread falls naturally under the heddle threads, in the down position.
When it's time for the open threads to be up, I manually grab them and hike them up above the heddle threads.
Since that's not normal, I need to slide my shuttle into the shed before releasing them.
Then I slide my shuttle down the shed, and beat the weft thread into place.
Then I manually push the open threads back down, below the heddle threads.
I wait to fully tension the weft until after I've beaten the newly exchanged weave down. This helps with keeping the weft perpendicular across the band.
Here's the band after several passes of the shuttle. You can see that it took a few turns to find the right weft tension (look at the widths of the white areas). I was also surprised to see that my teal yarn is not equal to the white within the weave, and is just small enough that it gets relegated to more of a background than an equal component of the checkered pattern.
After a while, as you work, you may notice that the warp threads shift around. On an open loom like mine, that can be a problem, since, if I'm not diligent, the warp can slide right off the loom. Every so often, push your warps back into place in the middle/ inside of the pegs.

When you get to a point when your shuttle can no longer pass through your shed, you'll need to shift your warp. Here's how I do it:

When you're done with your band, there are a variety of ways to finish it off. The easiest is to cut each warp off two at a time and tie them together. There are much fancier methods, but this simple finish won't inhibit you from doing something else with it once it's off the loom.

I hope that this has been clear and enough information for you to try inkle weaving for yourself. I know I'm hooked!